Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mocked a proposal by Democrats to pass an extremely short-term spending bill, and zeroed in on Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for leading “his own troops into a boxed canyon.”
“Apparently now he wants his members to default on their own demands,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Friday morning. “He’s spent days apparently persuading all of his colleagues to insist we cannot pass another continuing resolution. Now he wants them to pass one.”
“I feel bad for his own members,” McConnell lated added. “He’s painted them into a corner.”
His remarks set the stage for a high-stakes day in which Congress has less than twelve hours to avoid a government shutdown. The House on Thursday passed mostly on party lines a temporary spending bill (known as a continuing resolution or a “CR”) that would keep the government open for a month, the fourth CR since the GOP took over the presidency.
Senate Dems and a few Senate Republicans have said they won’t vote for the bill unless its includes a deal on an immigration program for young people brought to the country illegally has children. Schumer is suggesting passing a spending bill that would last for a few days instead, so that they can hash out a deal on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “DACA.”
If McConnell is thinking of taking up the Democrats’ offer, he didn’t show it in his floor speech Friday morning. He said he looked forward to a procedural vote that would advance the House bill, though he did not indicate when that vote would happen. McConnell needs 60 votes — meaning some Democratic support — to clear that procedural hurdle.
“The citizens who actually elected us will be watching. They will see which senators make the patriotic decision to stand up for the American people and vote to continue government funding and extend children’s health care while we continue our bipartisan talks,” McConnell said, referring to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that Republicans let lapse months ago but finally reauthorized in the House bill.
“They will see which senators will vote to shove aside veterans, military families and vulnerable children to hold the entire country hostage, hold the entire country hostage, until we pass an immigration bill they haven’t even written yet.”
It’s worth noting that a few Republicans, including Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have suggested that they also wouldn’t support the House bill, meaning that it might not even have 50 votes among the 51-member GOP caucus to pass once it overcomes the 60-vote procedural hurdle.
McConnell played down the urgency of coming to a DACA deal, calling it “a non-imminent issue related to illegal immigration” and one being pushed by the “extreme elements” of the Democratic base.
When President Trump decided to rescind the program last fall, he technically gave a March deadline for Congress to solve it legislatively (and a court has since temporarily blocked his phaseout). However, thousands of DACA recipients have already lost their status protecting them from deportation,
The first to answer McConnell’s criticism on the Senate floor was not Schumer, but Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who negotiated an immigration deal with a handful Republicans that Trump has flip-flopped on, according to the deal’s supporters.
“This is about a heart-wrenching issue that is before us because President Trump made a decision September 5 to end a program which allowed these young people to go to school, to work in the United States of America,” Durbin said. “It was President Trump that challenged us to do something about it and we have done nothing, nothing, and that’s the challenge we face. To say we’re in no hurry, well, we may not be as senators and congressmen. But these young people are in a hurry to find out whether or not they have a life.”